The eccentric (read: lunatic) French painter Gustave Courbet was presumably a bit of a narcissist. It takes quite a lot of self-obsession, perhaps self-loathing, to spend the best part of a decade painting self-portraits almost exclusively. The most famous of these works is the one above: ‘The desperate man’. I’m not a fan of this particular painting or Courbet’s oeuvre, but this painting has a particular resonance when it comes to our little world of RS. It is, after all, a spitting image of our old friend Jagex.
I’m sure that it will have come to your attention that Jagex has come up with yet another scheme to squeeze every last penny out of the terminally ill RS cash cow. ‘Refer a Friend to Receive an XP Boost,’ reads the chirpy little message from Mod Nexus (more on him later) announcing the ‘Refer a Friend Programme’ on the RSOF, '...[and] you’ll receive a 10% XP boost for one week. You can receive up to five of these boosts in a year.’ Meanwhile, the person you sign up gets ‘a x2 XP multiplier to any skills they train in their first seven days of playing’, though it ‘cannot be used to take a skill beyond level 30’. Oh, and they also get ‘a special cracker which they’ll need to pull in order to receive a special starter pack of weapons, armour, cake and coins’. Naturally, ‘You may only refer someone ... if they create a new account that has not played RuneScape previously’.
Sometimes, I just wish Jagex were more honest and asked the players directly for handouts. I can think of no greater indication of desperation on their part. They’re asking players to recruit customers for them, and offering them a 10% XP boost in return. Hell, Jagex, why not offer them some cake and coins as well? Mod Nexus quite rightly points out in the FAQs that RS grew via word-of-mouth. The plan here seems to be to make spread the word more enthusiastically in the knowledge that they’ll get a 10% XP boost for a week. One player on the RSOF quite rightly called this programme ‘bribery’. Only a fool or an optimist would dare say this programme is anything but bribery, pure and simple.
The only clever thing about this update is that, while June’s ‘Members’ Loyalty Programme’ was a clear attempt to keep people paying, just who Jagex is trying to bribe is a little more ambiguous in this instance. Are they just trying to keep people motivated with the insufferable monotony of skilling by offering them a fast-track to a 99? After all, it’d be very easy to just make accounts from a different IP address each week to get your 10% XP boost (if Jagex are even monitoring IP addresses, that is). Or are they also hoping that people who do join will be tempted to stay because they’ve got some armour, cake and 500 coins? It won’t be long before new players see the bot infested mess that is RS, or that their new armour could be picked up free in Lumbridge, or that 500 coins is a tiny amount of money thanks to the post-GE, pre-free trade period of inflation. I don’t believe Jagex expects many new players, seeing the state of RS and the actual worthlessness of the contents of their ‘special’ cracker, will make it to the paying stage. These new players might just be being lured in so that Jagex can claim they have so many players to the voters of the Golden Joysticks.
Then there is Mod Nexus, the so-called ‘Product Manager’. I don’t know what’s going on at Jagex behind the iron curtain (actually I do – more on that later), but it doesn’t seem to me that this guy’s managing the product very well. Botting is rampant, it’s having adverse effects on some items and markets, and it’s devaluing a community that, though always something of an Achilles Heel for RS, improved in leaps and bounds between 2007 and early this year. Meanwhile, Jagex are doing everything they can to keep people paying through subterfuge. They’ve added a second batch of capes to encourage people to do more than get just one 99 (thereby keeping them paying for longer), they’ve added vanity items and a loyalty programme (all of which raise extra revenues), and now they’ve added this. All these changes are both superficial – easy to make, inconsequential in reality – and crass. They don’t help the fundamental problems RS currently faces. Jagex are fiddling while Rome burns.
Some of you wiseguys out there might feel obliged at this point to point out that ‘Jagex is a business that needs to make money’. These people, once they’ve finished congratulating themselves for stating the obvious, need to be alerted to the fact that Jagex is not just ‘a’ business. They are in the business of making games, and so they need to make the game – and all the aspects of the game-play – appealing if they really want people to keep playing and, by extension, paying. Such changes might include making skills less monotonous, actually tackling the bots issue, etc. Instead, they just add little things, presumably as a distraction (though the only people they’ve distracting is themselves). It doesn’t matter how many little incentives to keep people paying are added (XP boosts, auras, whatever) if the actual game itself is plagued by bots and whatever else. People also go on about how lucky we are that there are no micro-transactions in RS, which is true. Jagex already have them in War of Legends.
I’ve mentioned plenty how Jagex is acting with desperation. Their transparent programmes and items speak for themselves. But I’ve yet to mention why Jagex is so desperate to increase their revenues, by hook or by crook. In December 2010, Spectrum Equity Investments invested in Jagex, at the same time as Venture Partners increased their investment. The inevitable outcome is that they want Jagex to end up on the FTSE. For this to happen, Jagex need to raise revenues in the most cost-effective way possible. Hence the cheap, money-raising updates such as this ‘Refer a Friend Programme’. The focus of development has shifted to quick and easy corporatism, something that doesn’t always go down well with gamers, who are cynical when it comes to capitalism and very willing to boycott things. The private equity situation also explains why Jagex are reluctant to really do something about botting: first, because botters are usually members, and second, because such an effort would take a lot of time and resources.
Looking at Jagex from afar, I can’t help but feel like I’m watching a car crash in slow motion. They still do great things – the updates associated with the ‘Year of the Clan’ have been very good indeed – but where they used to offset their triumphs with little errors, such as those Lumbridge Tutors, their mistakes today are little more than transparent, lazy schemes (‘programmes’ in their official terminology) that offer people cheap rewards for their continued loyalty. These ‘rewards’ are, after all, little more than a slap in the face for most. Ultimately, the final blow will be from the players; if Jagex continue this unsustainable cycle of just adding little, superficial gimmicks, rather than addressing actual issues that need to be addressed, then people will leave (many already have). After all, no amount of ‘programmes’ are substitute for an increasingly outmoded game infested with macro software and growing player disillusionment. If Jagex are to regain players’ trust, they’ll need to give them a whole lot more than XP, coins and cake.
To all who are interested in the topic covered by this article, I recommend you see the following thread on the RSOF: QFC: 14-15-190-63089129
I recommend reading the original posts and Jagex's reply on page 128. I'll leave it up to your better judgement exactly how much of said response is honest.